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Governor closes Greeley, Colo., JBS beef plant

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said JBS’s Greeley processing facility would be closed for “as long as it takes.” In a press release, JBS said the facility will remain closed until April 24.

Polis said he spoke to Vice President Mike Pence three times this weekend about protecting workers, the Weld County communities, and getting JBS, which he called a critical part of our food infrastructure, online sooner rather than later.

Polis said JBS is working with the governor’s office and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on a plant-wide quarantine. The governor didn’t offer additional information about such a quarantine for the approximately 6,000 workers.

The plant will be cleaned during the closure.

“The way we can bring the plant back online is not unlike any other critical part of our economy,” he said. “It’s mass testing, containment, to make sure those that are sick are not coming to work, and providing protective equipment and masks to relevant employees and those who might have been exposed.”

Polis said he is confident there will be no disruptions to the food supply caused by the closure.

JBS has provided funding to replenish PPE for first responders and essential city workers, provided funding for testing for first responders, donated $90,000 to the Greeley Personal Isolation Facility, donated $50,000 to the United Way of Weld County, and will provide 1,000 testing kits for low income and uninsured local residents.

Polis said he has no firsthand knowledge of JBS ignoring social distancing recommendations and putting workers at risk but said there is an outbreak at the plant. He said his priority is to “make sure we can restore this critical part of our national food security, which is also an important part of the livelihood of our ranchers, as well as important to consumers, as quickly as possible, as quickly as we can assure employees it is a safe environment to return to.”

Polis was clear that there is no evidence of risk to consumers in terms of food safety.

In an April 10 letter to Andre Nogueira, CEO of JBS SA, the CDPHA and Weld County formalized the conversations between the meat packing company, the governor, and public health officials and JBS’ voluntary closure of the plant. Public Health Order 20-25 ordered the immediate closure of the Greeley plant until April 15 at 5 a.m. for screening, testing and cleaning. JBS must take the ordered steps in addition to provide the Weld County and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment an “actionable and verifiable plan” prior to reopening.

According to the order, 43 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the plant since March 25 among employees. Of the 43 confirmed cases, 14 people have been hospitalized, eight have been intubated, and there have been two deaths.

The order includes testing and screening with a symptom and exposure screening and employee identification; assuring that sick people are not exposing others during the process; and includes an ongoing testing and monitoring program for employees who test negative. JBS must identify ill workers and their contacts and ensure their exclusion from work for the minimum necessary isolation (at least seven days) and quarantine (14 days); identify asymptomatic, non-exposed workers who may be permitted to work after the closure period; implement public health reporting procedures; implement policies and procedures that ensure social distancing of all workers; provide adequate access to PPE, handwashing and hand sanitizing equipment; increase signage in the appropriate languages to educate workers about COVID-19; plan for reopening with reduced staff; and plan to reopen with adequate, ongoing measures to prevent transmission and ensure worker safety.

JBS will also be required to “develop a sequestration housing plan to assure healthy employees who have tested negative are housed in a way that protects them from future community and household exposures and includes ensuring accommodation of access and functional needs, morale and welfare, including access to meals that include options accommodating dietary and religious standards, behavioral/mental health support, technology for contact with family and cultural/religious practices.”

Workers who test positive or are exposed to a case, are to be excluded from work, placed on leave, and temporarily housed away from other workers that they cohabitate with and must have the accommodations listed above.


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